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Social Media Activities That Put You at Risk

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Logging into social media apps and websites on different devices such as school computers or friend’s phones and oversharing on social media can increase your risk of being hacked or exposed to inappropriate content. Additionally, social media posts can seem harmless, but every little bit of information you share online can be a hint for hackers to breach your privacy and uncover your passwords.

We asked 10 experts to share their tips for students to be smart about using technology, social media, friend’s devices, and more.

1. Social media gives users a false sense of security

Rob Shavell, Co-Founder and CEO, Abine/DeleteMe (The Online Privacy Company)

Rob Shavell
Rob Shavell

The idea of privacy on social media is to some extent, a bit of a pipe dream. The primary ways personal information is leaked from social-media platforms is by: a) various kinds of data-aggregating, web-scraping bots deployed by 3rd parties and b) over-sharing of information by users who have a false sense of what is truly private and what is not.

Many privacy-enhancing features that social media companies offer to users are superficial, intended to provide a sense of security to users without significantly influencing user behavior. Even when some better privacy options are provided, social-media platforms generally do not want to actively discourage users from sharing or discourage the use of their platform with over-complexity. So, features may exist but remain little used because of failure to educate users about how they work and what benefits they provide to known privacy risks.

Google and Facebook have pioneered the development of privacy and security options that are both simple to access but also extremely vague, providing little detail about what information is being gathered and why, what the significance of 'deletion' requests really implies, or informing users of 3rd party data collection behaviors, and how their privacy options might affect them. This kind of “click one button for better privacy” approach aims mostly to reassure users without significantly altering existing business practices regardless of the choices consumers make.

2. Think twice before giving apps permission to your social media profiles

Daniel Hess, Filmmaker & Writer, To Tony Productions

Daniel Hess
Daniel Hess

It is essential for safety reasons to never log in to your account on any computer or smart device other than your own. If you do, you run the risk of the owner of that device or others who may use that device logging in as you later on.

Always have your devices locked or password-protected no matter what so that others can't get into them if you leave them somewhere or lose them somehow.

Always be careful of letting other websites gain access to your social media accounts as well. When you give an app permission or grant access to your profile, some apps will post on your behalf or even start spamming others from your account.

Video link phishing is another tactic hackers will use to get your information. When a friend sends you a random message with a video to click on and it seems slightly odd, avoid clicking on it altogether as it may be another way for a malicious site to gain access to your profile. Give your friend a call and ask them if they meant to send that link and if they didn’t, make sure they immediately change their passwords for all their social media accounts (not just the one known to be hacked) to prevent any more data hacking.

3. Catfish accounts exist to trick users into sharing information

Katherine Brown, Founder & Marketing Director, Spyic

Katherine Brown
Katherine Brown

Using secure internet connections and practicing safe browsing are two basic practices students should adopt. Pop-up ads should be ignored and not clicked upon unless they are on trusted websites. Files should also only be downloaded from safe and trusted sites. Students should maintain up-to-date anti-virus systems and create strong passwords for their accounts (and use a password manager with the strongest password they can remember).

Live locations or check-ins, home addresses, financial information, and names of family members are examples of information that students should NEVER post online. Such personal information makes it easier for persons with intent to cause harm or stalkers to locate you.

Catfish accounts run by people masquerading as someone else are often used to engage social media users and trick them into sharing information. This is often done by engaging a user and gaining their trust first. Phishing is also used to obtain personal information. Pop-up ads and online shopping from unsecured sites or pages that require personal information is also a deceitful ploy.

Certain browsers store usernames and passwords to accounts logged onto, and the gadget owner can later go to their browser and access your credentials. Forgetting to log out of your account can also grant someone else access to your account while keyloggers may also be used to record personal information keyed in. These are examples of risks faced when logging onto your accounts on somebody else's devices.

4. Would you share it with a known hacker? Then don’t share it online either

John Ross, CEO, Test Prep Insight

John Ross
John Ross

One rule of thumb that I think is a great barometer of whether something should be posted on social media is whether your student would put the same info in a reply email to a clear scammer.

Your student should ask themselves whether they would feel comfortable putting the same info they're about to post on their Instagram or Snapchat into a return email to the scammer. Because at the end of the day, anything you post online can be found by the same hackers and scammers you might see in an email.

Even if your account is set to private so only friends can see, information can still make its way out. Whether it's your friends' accounts getting hacked or your info being shared publicly without your consent, there's a good chance that what your student posts may find its way into the public domain.

Discuss with your student the implications of getting hacked and over-sharing. I would even take it as far as showing them a scam email you got before and saying, “would you be cool sending your post to this scammer?” If your student feels totally fine with it because there's nothing sensitive or private about it, then great! They can probably post it. But if they get that uneasy feeling when thinking about that info getting into the scammer's hands, tell them to trust their gut and not post it.

5. Don’t connect to public Wi-Fi connections, use your data plan

Steven Emerson, Technical Expert, Mobile Biponi

Steven Emerson
Steven Emerson

As much as possible, don't connect to public Wi-Fi. Once you connect to public Wi-Fi, all of your information will be vulnerable to hackers. This includes birthdays, social security numbers, insurance policy numbers, and even bank details. Hence, as much as possible, use your own mobile data so you won't be vulnerable to attacks.

Be careful when joining social media platforms too. There was a social media platform that gained popularity recently that is known to put users' information at risk. Users did not mind this because they are more concerned about the amount of money they can earn on the site. Photo aging apps and others that become popular out of fun can also be dangerous. They will be able to steal your photo, edit it the way they want to, and share it with whomever they want because you used their app.

Basically, to be safe online, always think before you click.

6. Sensitive and personal information can be in the background of photos

Mega Jewell, MEGA

A few major safety risks when using social media that are often the most overlooked:

Don’t share your boarding pass photo. Time and time again people share photos of their boarding passes with codes that can potentially reveal their personal information, not to mention their current location and future destination. Many people also write how long they’ll be gone, notifying that there’s an unoccupied house back home
• Work from home selfies. These can be more dangerous than we think. What’s on your desk right now? Bills? Bank statements? Our phone cameras are way too sophisticated now and people can see sensitive information by zooming in or in the background that gives away sensitive information or something else personal
• Check-ins are fun but can have some serious risks to them. Predators have been known to follow people who have checked in to a location. If you must check in, consider doing so when you are leaving

7. Never trust any platform’s security system or policy

Michael Carrida

There are many ways to practice safety habits online. Most people do not realize there are simple ways hackers can gain access to your device. Hiding general information, such as name, address, phone number, and emails isn't enough. By uploading files, for example, images can already put you at risk of getting hacked. Regardless of countless measures to protect your account, you're still vulnerable to hackers. When hackers do gain access to your device, all of your information inside will be at risk. It can be done by obtaining your device's IP address through images you shared on social media.

Tools like remote access can make hacker's jobs easier once they have your IP address. Do not upload images without removing their properties and personal information. It's more secure to keep your entire profile private from strangers. Ignore social media friend requests from someone you've never met personally. Remind yourself of your complete unawareness of their true intention.

When logging into your account to a different device you can become a victim of keylogging. Keylogging records every word you type, including your passwords and usernames. Credentials you left behind on the keylogging database can be used to infiltrate your account. To protect yourself from this, avoid using a stranger's device to log in to your credentials. Try to think of other options as much as you can when prompted upon by emergencies.

Still, the best way to protect yourself from hackers is by not relying on a platform's security system.

8. Trust your instincts when it comes to strangers on the internet

Felix Maberly, Social Media and Marketing Manager at Tiger Supplies

Felix Maberly
Felix Maberly

First, students have to understand that there are billions of people accessing the internet daily. Think carefully before sharing pictures or videos on the internet, even when you think it's private because nothing on the internet is entirely private.

Don't share your info with people you don't know. Trust your instincts; if someone approaches you on the internet making you feel uncomfortable or in danger, cut short your communication with them immediately and inform your parents or your guardian.

It's not safe to meet someone you just met online, even if you've communicated with them for a long time since they may not be who they say they are. If you want to meet someone you met online, meet in a public place and let a trusted adult accompany you.

9. Don't log in on a device not owned by you

Josh Wright, CEO, CellPhoneDeal

Josh Wright
Josh Wright

One of the risks you face when logging onto a device that is not your own is that your information could end up in the wrong hands. Even if the person whose device it is, is your friend, you don’t know for certain how they use that device and whether it has been breached or not.

In addition, you don’t know if, after you’ve logged into the device, they’ll even remember to remove your information to keep it safe from potential breaches. There are so many factors that can come into play when logging onto devices that aren’t your own. You don’t have control of what happens to that device before or after you’ve used it to log into your accounts, so it’s best just to avoid doing so.

10. Don’t post anything on social media that you wouldn’t want on the front page of the news

Kirsten E. Hoyt, Ed.DT

Kristen E. Hoyt
Kirsten E. Hoyt

Kirsten shared about these social media activities that can put you at risk of a data breach with us at the Digital Citizenship Conference in 2017.

Think about all the information you post on social media sites. Did you wear a local school’s t-shirt? Have you answered any surveys from friends? How many external links have you clicked on and allowed access to your personal account information? Do you post when you travel? All of these actions pose potential risks and give hackers information that could clue them into your location, personal information, and, potentially, your password.

I recommend you proceed with caution when posting anything online. Avoid the quizzes and tests that appear in social media circles, and change your password often (remember to make it different from any other password you use, and long and complex). For an easy rule to follow: Don’t post anything on social media that you wouldn’t want on the front page of the news.

When you are on a public Wi-Fi network anyone can “listen” to all the keystrokes you perform. In the survey done by the University of Phoenix, 52 percent of the people surveyed felt that the convenience of public Wi-Fi outweighed the risks of cyber security threats. The survey also found that roughly 70 percent of those public Wi-Fi users have connected in hotels, restaurants, airports, or stores – places that can give hackers easy access to your data. When you are on a public Wi-Fi network anyone can “listen” to the activity and record all the keystrokes you perform.

Think about the things you do on your computer when on public Wi-Fi networks. Do you log in to your bank account or into your personal email? Instead of using the public network, use your cell phone as a Wi-Fi hotspot or download a Virtual Private Network (VPN).

Do not click on any hyperlinks in suspicious emails. The easiest way for hackers to get your information is they ask you for it through phishing emails. The “ask email” is typically part of a phishing scheme, where you receive an email and are requested to validate your user account. When you click the link to validate your information, you are taken to a fake site and unknowingly you enter your information. From that point, the hackers have your account information and can start using it fraudulently.

Do not click on any hyperlinks in suspicious emails; instead, call the company directly to verify your information.


Social media is not all negative, but unfortunately, with how public the internet is these days, the less personal information shared online, the better. Consider running your post by a friend or trusted adult before posting it to see if there’s any sensitive information they can interpret from it. Be leery of public Wi-Fi networks and public computers.

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This is great info, thanks for giving me some ideas on how to start a dialogue with my teen!


Sharon M.

Parent VIP Member

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Josh's presentation about social media was unbelievably fantastic. Our students learned so much about what kids should and shouldn't be doing. The fact that it is such a thoughtful process made it all worthwhile.


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Educator Webinar Attendee

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This webinar is a very helpful eye-opener on the apps that are popular with my students.


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